Before I begin, understand that I’ve been heavily involved in high school sports for over 30-years. My opinions are based on my experiences and the changes I have witnessed taking place over that period of time.
Listen, I hope I’m wrong. I really do. I don’t want to be right on this one. I know a lot of you won’t be able to fathom this happening, but hear me out. And no, I haven’t taken too many shots upside the head with a basketball. I hope. Again, I pray I’m wrong.
But I don’t think I am.
I grew up in a small southern Ohio town and attended a small school that graduated 80 students in my senior class. Friday nights during the fall were designated for football. That’s simply where you went that evening, to THE GAME. Everything revolved around that. In the winter it was basketball, and in the fall baseball. We had volleyball, track and other sports as well, but the point is that in small communities across our country high school sporting events have always been the focal point and gathering place for communities, both small and large, for a long time.
And man, I hate to see that go. But going it is.
Let me repeat, I hate to say it but I sincerely believe that high school sports as we know them will be virtually extinct within 15-20 years, and that makes me really sad. Before you dismiss me as an ignoramus, let me explain myself . . .
Over the past several years there has been a gradual decrease in interest among students in sports at their home schools and an increase in AAU or Club Sports. Here, in my opinion, is why:
- In AAU, anyone can play. God forbid someone get cut and maybe, you know, learn a life lesson or something. If you’re not good enough for one team, daddy can start up a team himself! Hey, Uncle Milton started on his 8th grade team, he can coach us! And if your AAU team is getting hammered, just get into an easier tournament or league. The days of parents being happy to have their child simply make the team are long gone. Everyone has to be a starter! AAU solves this little problem for them.
- Rules placed on HS coaches. High school coaches have strict guidelines they must follow. They have a restricted number of contact days, have to follow scholastic eligibility rules, little things like that. Coaches, at least in Ohio, have to pay for a CPR course, a Fundamentals of Coaching class, a Pupil Activity/Sports Medicine class, and football coaches have to complete a Return to Play/Concussion course. It’s probably only a matter of time until other sport coaches are included in Return to Play requirement. End result? Coaches who are teachers have all but disappeared, and high school coaches in general are becoming harder to find. In the past, coaches were supposed to be teachers. Do you think the local bricklayer (parent of one of the kids of course) coaching your son cares if he goes to Physics class? Maybe, maybe not. Could be as long as his players are eligible the coach is happy. As a former AD, I appreciate the volunteer coaches as much as anybody, but care as they might they simply cannot have the same impact as a coach who is at the school all day, every day, keeping tabs on his/her kids.
- The internet/video games. Duh. The days of playing outside until the street lights come on are long gone, folks. Active kids, unfortunately, are a dying breed. If you’re not active you’re not gonna be up for wind sprints, now are ya?
- Fewer and fewer students attend games. Recent study showed that less than 10% attend athletic events, so revenues from sports are in decline as a result. Money talks, folks.
- Pay to Play. Many schools are going to pay to play these days because of the money concerns I just mentioned. How many parents want to pay for their kid not to play when he can play on an AAU team and get playing time? Sure, there are costs involved to play AAU as well but at least you’re guaranteed time on the court/field.
- Administrators will love it. Any administrator will tell you a large percentage of their problems stem from sports – playing time, complaints about coaches, etc. Cheerleading has been known to cause a problem or twelve as well. In addition, liability concerns will be gone. And wait! What about all the transportation (busing) to athletic events and the problems that come with them? Poof. Gone with the mists of time. Administrators can simply rent the gym to the local AAU team(s) and go home for an early cocktail.
In addition, think about small schools – in the future, will they survive? If they don’t, consolidation will do further harm to high school sports. Bigger schools, less opportunity and less chance to make the team. Enter AAU/Club Sports.
Folks, in Europe club sports have taken over. There are virtually no high school sports over there. England has HS sports but it’s been overtaken by club sports as well. I believe that we’ll follow suit, and in fact have already begun the process. USA high schools will inevitably turn to intramurals. I realize that football is a different animal, but the ball is rolling and AAU football (if football is still being played in 20-years with all the injury concerns) is around the corner.
I taught Physical Education for 6-years and believe it or not, games of competition are now strongly discouraged. Instead, dance and aerobic based activities are being stressed. That eliminates winners and losers, but more importantly hurt feelings.
With no high school sports and the pressure to play basketball, football, baseball and other competitive sports, Physical Education classes can turn their attention to diet, exercise, and health education. And you know what? The majority of today’s parents will like it.
Listen, I don’t necessarily disagree with everything that is happening, but I certainly disagree with taking healthy competition out of our schools. That’s just wrong and will ultimately hurt, rather than help, America’s youth.
People have often made the comment to me that, “Boy, kids sure have changed.” I don’t believe that for a second. Kids haven’t changed, parenting has changed. Big difference.
That said, the writing’s on the wall. Unless there’s a major shift in our way of thinking or there’s a cultural u-turn somewhere in the near future, high school sports are coming to an end. It won’t be tomorrow or even 5-years from now, but it’s coming.
And that’s a damn shame.